We have recently been on holiday in a beautiful part of England. It’s a place steeped in history with an abundance of places to walk. While we’ve been out and about I’ve been pondering what it is about walking that I love some much.
As I’ve mused I’ve realised how important walking is to me. I’m currently 90% of the way through a challenge to climb all of the hills in the Lake District that are chronicled in the books by Arthur Wainwright. There are 214 hills in this list and I’m down to the last 19. I do most of these walks on my own and whatever the weather I love it. I have no idea how many hours I have spent on this venture, but it’s a lot.
Most weeks I go out for a walk before work on at least three days. One of the privileges of my life is the ability to walk. This privilege is multiplied when the walking is in the countryside, something I can do from my house. If I walk a little way down my street there is a gap in the houses and a path. The path drops down to another path that runs alongside a brook. From this starting point the choices of route multiply like the branches on a tree.
Walking is so natural to many of us that we barely give it a thought. We put one step in front of another and move from one place to another. Sometimes I walk with a purpose, but more often I walk to walk, it’s the walking that is the reward.
Although walking is, for me at least, an ordinary activity I still love it, and that’s what I’ve been pondering? Why do I love walking? Why do I get out of bed on a cold, wet, dark morning, put on my waterproof clothing and walk with a smile on my face? I’ve never really given it much thought before, and I’ve not really written about it, so perhaps it’s time that I did.
Header Image: This is Embleton Bay looking towards Dunstanburgh Castle taken on a late afternoon walk during our recent holiday.
I really liked this book, it met so many of the criteria for a good book for me:
I like books with practical advice that is communicated as principles rather than prescriptions.
I like books with stories, we are made to remember stories.
I like books based on evidence, particularly when the author acknowledges that the evidence is indicative rather than definitive.
I’ve spent much of my life with a couple of quotations about time ringing through my head:
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Which I didn’t realise until writing this post was simply an extension of Albert Einstein’s quotation “Time is an illusion”.
“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
These two quotations are, in some regards, contradictory. Time can’t be both an illusion and a constant ticking of minutes and yet, for me, this contradiction speaks volumes. We each have the same number of minutes in a day, that is true, and yet, each of us recognises that how we use those minutes greatly influences how we perceive our day. The spending of minutes is where this book is focused, but not where most of this type of book focus their study, on our work life and how to get ahead, this book is primarily targeted at all that time you have when you aren’t working.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
How do you spend your time? Yes, you spend a lot of it asleep and, probably, another huge section at that thing you call work, but what about the remaining minutes? Have you ever received any training on how to spend that other time? Do you know what type of activity in your free time would enrich the whole of your life? How do you avoid those times where you feel like you’ve wasted your time? How do you get the best value out of your free time? Can you really call time free?
As I look around my friends, acquaintances and colleagues I see so many different ways that people use the freetime that they have. Some people appear to achieve so much and have such amazing experiences while others have little to show for the time that they have spent. What are the things that separate these two extremes? Does it matter? Well it does if we can enrich our whole life and even extend them by investing our time in particular ways.
James Wallman’s hypothesis is precisely that, apply a set of principles to spending our leisure time will greatly enrich our lives.
The reality is, though, that many of us have a very uneasy relationship with the free time that we have. A quotation from the opening chapter of the book:
“The popular assumption is that no skills are involved in enjoying free time, and that anybody can do it. Yet the evidence suggests the opposite: free time is more difficult to enjoy than work. Having leisure at one’s disposal does not improve the quality of life unless one knows how to use it effectively, and it is by no means something one learns automatically.”
Why are we so uneasy, particularly now? This is a summary of the reasons that James Wallmam gives:
We are earning more which makes the cost of time seem higher and feel more scarce.
We think that busyness is status.
We have too many incoming messages and too many demands on our time.
Instead of helping, multitasking creates ‘contaminated time’.
We have more opportunities than ever – endlessly scrolling online, more new places to go and events to attend – and end up feeling FOMO (fear of missing out).
Smartphones and all of our digital devices now eat around 60% of our leisure time.
Leisure isn’t taught, and has become trivialised, belittled.
James Wallman likens the different ways that we spend time to the different foods that we eat, some foods being empty-calories, like all of that endless scrolling, and others being super-foods, like a walk with a close friend along a beach. The aim of the book being to teach us how to recognise and consume super-food experiences rather than flopping into an empty-calorie existence.
The structure of the book is based on an acrostic of the
word STORIES with each of the letters highlighting a characteristic of great
Story – understanding the hero’s journey and what makes a great story.
Transformation – creating personal growth leads to happiness.
Outside and Offline – there’s huge power in being outside and away from all of those interruptions.
Relationships – loneliness isn’t healthy, we are made to do things together.
Intensity – this is about flow, which is a huge subject in its own right.
Extraordinary – creating a balance between novel and ordinary experiences.
Status and Significance – creating significance by investing in others.
With a combination of stories, evidence and anecdote each of these chapters creates a set of principles that define those super-food experiences.
I normally leave this bit until the end, but it’s appropriate here:
Header Image: Today’s header image was taken on a recent holiday when I was contemplating many of the principles in this book.
The picture was taken at the Low Wood Bay, Windermere, UK – this place has been a special place in Sue and I’s lives for over 30 years, so returning was extending an already significant story in our lives.
We are stood on a jetty from where we left our wedding reception in a speedboat. As with the day of this picture, it had been a lovely day that we would remember for the rest of our lives. There are many parts of that day that I don’t remember the detail of, but I remember the feeling of stepping into a speedboat that had been kindly decorated by the staff with trailing buoys and a Just Married poster. We kept this part of our wedding a secret, so it was a surprise to nearly everyone and the look on their faces as we zoomed off across the lake is etched into my memory.
Having taken a few picture we put out phones away and we stood and remembered, together, outside, in a kind of flow as we thought about our children, the things we had enjoyed together and the blessing of seeing them both in loving relationships of their own. We thought about some of the adventures that we had been on and looked forward to adventures to come, even the very next day. We looked across the lake at the beauty of it all and held hands.
We used STORIES to extend and enrich our story.
For a slightly longer summary of the information in the book the following is a good podcast:
I’m always on the look out for books that people are reading and finding helpful, interesting, entertaining, etc. Sometimes people recommend something to me, at other times I see a video or a talk by someone and decide to read their book. I found this one via a different route.
One of the subjects that I find interesting is organisational change, particularly in large organisation. The change at Microsoft since Satya Nadella become CEO has been on of the most dramatic organisational changes in recent years. I read his book Hit Refresh a little while ago and was fascinated by the definition of the organisation as a group of warring factions. What I missed from that book and only understood later on was that he had made his entire leadership team read a book as part of changing the warring factions situation – Nonviolent Communication is that book.
This isn’t a new book having been first published in 1999 based on research and experience that dates back to the 1960s. Nor is this a “Business Management” book of the type that you may expect the leader of a large enterprise to be giving out. This book isn’t a business management book at all, really, it would be better to describe it as a “tools for life” book.
As the name suggests this is a book about communication, another subject that has fascinated me for a very long time.
As the introduction to the book says:
“NVC (Nonviolent Communication) is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. it contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know – about how we humans were meant to relate to one another – and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.”
Nonviolent Communications – A Way to Focus Attention
In these posts I normally give a bit of an overview of the book; I’m not going to do that this time because this is a book that deserves to be read and not consumed as a summary.
The other thing I normally do is provide some personal observations; I’m not going to do that either. Many of my personal observations are very personal and require a bit longer to become part of who I am before I write about the. What I will say is that reading through this book has helped me to see a number of things that I do when I communicate that I need to change, it’s also given me some tools to make those changes.
What I will do is to say what this book isn’t. This book isn’t a how-to prescriptive manual for counselling conversation, although much of what is in the book would be helpful for those situations. Neither is it a book of listening skills, although it includes many great insights on how to be a great listener. It’s not even a manual on how to be politically correct, although some of the examples could be read that way if you were so inclined. This book isn’t just about giving good communication, it’s also about receiving it well.
I started reading this book part way through a series of posts that in my head is called “fascinating conversations”. Once I’d started reading this book I felt that I needed to finish it before continuing those posts for fear of simply adding to my catalogue of poor behaviour. I haven’t yet decided whether I will restart those posts, I probably will, but I need to change some of the language.
Having read it I can understand why Satya Nadella made it mandatory reading for his leadership team.
It’s likely that most of the apps that you use have a white (or light) background with black (or dark) text. It’s also likely that the operating system capabilities that you use also has this configuration.
This is the default after all and why would you change it?
You may have gone to the effort of changing the colour scheme a little, but it’s probably still got a light background and dark text.
I’ve recently taken the step of reversing this on many apps and some operating systems as a bit of an experiment. My screen world is now predominantly dark – dark background with light text.
Why? There are a few reasons, but mostly it’s about personal taste and visual preferences:
Eye Fatigue – When you are looking into a screen you are looking into a light. It may only be a low intensity light, but it’s still a light. Using dark mode reduces the amount of light and hence, hopefully, the levels of eye fatigue. Some people claim a scientific justification for this, but the research I could find was quite limited. I find it easier on the eye and that’s good enough for me.
Reduced Blue Light – Of the light that your screen is emitting the blue light is probably the most destructive. It’s thought that this type of light impacts our ability to sleep, and that we should reduce the amount of blue light before we go to bed. My logic goes like this, if I don’t need it in the evening, why would I need more of it than my surroundings are providing it in the daytime?
Readability – This is a subjective one, I find light text on a dark background easier to read.
Reduced Distraction – Using dark mode reduces the intensity of many of the interface elements. Things like window borders and app icons are not as highlighted and hence grab less attention. At the same time, the elements that I am working on – the words and diagrams – stand out more and draw my attention.
Reduced Power Consumption – This is a tenuous one, dark mode uses slightly less power to light the screen and hence it improves battery life on a device. I suspect that the difference here is marginal, but what it has allowed me to do is to lower the light levels on my iPhone extending the battery life by a little.
There are some drawbacks though:
It’s not the Default – Because Dark Mode isn’t the default for operating systems or for applications, you have to choose it. My experience has been that some applications will take the preference from the operating system, but not all of them will. Some apps provide an option which you then have to find.
Web Sites – The real challenge is web sites, it takes far too much effort to switch over to dark mode in each of these. I’ve tried a few plug-ins for browsers, but have concluded that the glitches are worse than just letting the web sites display in light mode.
Mixed Mode – Because it’s not the default it’s not always possible to work in dark mode in every application, and certainly not on every web site. The challenge with this is that you then get the rather jarring experience of switching between an app that is in dark mode and another that it in light mode. On balance, though, I think I prefer this experience to the default one. I’d call myself a lightweight dark mode user.
iOS Dark Mode – My primary smartphone is an iPhone. The iOS interface doesn’t really have a dark mode. You can use the accessibility features to invert the colours which is supposed to be smart enough to only invert the colours of the text, but it also has an annoying habit of inverting the colours of all of the images. Having said that, once you switch apps to dark mode it’s surprising to realise how little of the actual iOS interface you see day to day. Yesterday, Apple announced that iOS 13 will have a dark mode.
All I need, now, is for each of the apps that I use to give me the option to change, or better still, to take the default settings from the operating system. I suspect that web sites are always going to be, by default, in light mode, but perhaps a time is coming when they will pick up the correct mode from the browser that is being used.
As part of this experiment I’ve switched this web site over to a dark colour scheme and even there I’ve had some glitches to deal with, some of which still aren’t resolved.
Many people see dark mode as a way of making the nighttime visual experience better, but I’ve been using dark mode all day every day. I started this as an experiment a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting it to make much difference, but it has made a far greater difference than I was expecting.
I’m not advocating that everyone moves because I think that it’s primarily an issue of personal preference, but you might like to give it a try.
My productivity regime is an example of continuous learning. It doesn’t stay the same for very long and is regularly changed a bit here and there. Within my productivity practices task management has been an area in need of improvement for some time as the working context has changed.
There was a time when I could use my inbox as my list of outstanding activities, but that’s no longer the case as activities get assigned to me in various different ways and from different tools.
I have tried for a little while managing my tasks in each of the various tools, but that become cumbersome. I also tried various methods of copying activity descriptions to a central tool and then working there, the problem with this was that I still needed to keep the various sources synchronised as the status and priority changes.
The latest incarnation of my tasks management activities utilises Microsoft To-Do. I looked at To-Do when it was first launched because I’ve previously used Wunderlist, which Microsoft purchased. In those early days I couldn’t see what I was getting and it was all a bit rudimentary, I expected this to changed, but it didn’t change for what seemed like a very long time.
Recently though, To-Do has hit the accelerator on useful capabilities and my use of it has increased significantly.
The two main features that have made the difference being:
Flagged email – Emails that I flag in Outlook get automatically replicated into a folder in To-Do where I can work on them and flag them as completed. This is a two-way synchronisation – if it’s flagged complete in To-Do it’s flagged complete in Outlook and vice versa.
Assigned to Me – if a task is assigned to me in Planner it also appears in To-Do. Again this is a two-way synchronisation.
The activities that I place directly into To-Do are also synchronised into Outlook Tasks, but I don’t think that this has had a significant impact on my productivity because I’ve never managed my Tasks in Outlook Tasks and don’t think I’m going to start.
I have always flagged emails in Outlook as a way of sorting through the dross to find the things requiring my attention. The task of Flagging an email is done via an Outlook Quick Step which also moves the email into a separate folder and marks it as read. I have another Quick Step that moves emails that require no action to a different folder and marks them as read. These are both assigned a keyboard shortcut so that I can progress through my inbox without leaving the keyboard.
Now that tasks from emails, tasks from Planner and my own defined tasks are in To-Do I’ve found myself using To-Do as the mechanism for planning my day, adding and removing things from the My Day plan. My daily plan still takes place on a piece of paper, but that’s because my daily plan isn’t just about tasks. The tasks are increasingly managed in To-Do.
This still isn’t an absolutely ideal situation because I also get assigned activities via a Jira corporate project management capability, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. Perhaps I should raise a suggestion for the To-Do team to work with Atlassion on that.
Looking forward to what new capabilities the To-Do team have for us.
Blog post number 1 occured on 4th Aprill 2005 without a fanfare and without any real content. I had no idea what I was doing back then, and I’m still not really sure, but I’ve learnt a lot along the way.
I mostly blog for myself, but I do hope that it’s of value to those of you that read it. Having said that, it is interesting to see what people do read, so I thought I would share the all-time Top 10:
Everywhere you look technology is changing how we do things and what we do. While this change already feels dramatic the reality is that it’s only just begun. There are many estimates about how significant this change is going to be, the latest one was published in the UK, this week, by the Office of National Statistics: Automation could replace 1.5 million jobs, says ONS. To be clear about the statistics here, this is 1.5 million jobs in England (not the whole of the UK or GB) and represents 7.4% of jobs. The slight irony of this report is that it is accompanied by a ChatBot which will tell you about which jobs are at risk, thus demonstrating the levels of disruption already underway.
Society is on the leading edge of a technology tsunami. Advances in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, robotics, nanotechnology, deep learning, mapping the human brain, and biomedical, genetic, and cyborg engineering will revolutionize how most of us live and work. Technology will be able to learn, as well as teach and program itself. We call this next big step the Smart Machine Age, or SMA.
Hess, Edward D.. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (p. 1). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
As with any change, we have a choice, we can either ignore it, or we can recognise it and respond. Once we recognise that a response is required the next sensible question is “how?”
How is the change going to impact me?
What skills am I going to need for the future?
What skills is my organisation going to need for the future?
It’s these questions that this book is speaking into by arguing that we need a new mindset and new behaviours.
They argue that the way we think isn’t suitable for the SMA:
Mental models guide our thoughts and actions and predispose us to behave in certain ways. They can help us simplify the world and operate efficiently, but they can also be limiting and destructive when they’re like concrete bunkers, blinding or repelling us from ideas, facts, or perspectives that challenge our views of the world. Many of our mental models are stuck in ideas and perceptions originating in the Industrial Revolution. The SMA is a new reality requiring new ideas and rules.
Hess, Edward D.. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (pp. 33-34).
What’s the route to these required mindset changes? Humility:
What ultimately is needed to thrive in the coming SMA is this kind of openness to perceiving and processing the world more as it is and not merely as we believe or would like it to be. That is what’s at the heart of our definition of Humility. In the SMA, we all will have to acknowledge the need to spend less time focused on “big me” and instead balance our competitive spirit with a collaborative spirit, because critical thinking, innovative thinking, and high emotional engagement are all team sports—“big us.”
Hess, Edward D.. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (p. 60). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
The book then goes on to describe a set of NewSmart Behaviours that will enable us to make this mindset change and to create a posture of humility:
Managing Self: Thinking and Emotions
Otherness: Emotionally Connecting and Relating
The final section of the book broadens these ideas beyond purely personal changes and focuses on the ways in which these changes are impacting teams and the changes to the ways in which we lead the NewSmart Organisation.
Sometimes it’s difficult to summarise a book into just a few words. For me, this book is itself a summary, it’s chocked full of many interesting and valuable ideas, but isn’t sufficient for us to become NewSmart. In no way is that a criticism, I’m not sure that any book could be sufficient, reading a few pages on Reflective Listening or Quieting Ego isn’t sufficient to change behaviours that we’ve built up over decades (for some of us). Those few pages may be sufficient to get us started on our journey of becoming NewSmart which, itself, would be a great achievement. Sometimes the most difficult part of a journey is to work out the starting direction.
This book draws an a number of books that I’ve already read so there were, for me, times when I felt like I was going over old ground. Again, this isn’t a criticism, it’s great to see ideas proliferate beyond the boundary of a single book.
Humility Is The New Smart includes many Reflection Time sections and a couple of Assessment Tools I found these some of the most valuable parts of the book, taking the time to contemplate the next steps and to dig a bit deeper into the mindset or behaviour being highlighted. I contacted Ed Hess via twitter to see if these were available as a separate document, but unfortunately they aren’t. I wanted to be able to annotate my thoughts and conclusions, which isn’t easy to do in a small area in a book.
In conclusion: The world we live in is changing it’s time to get prepared, and this book gives a great summary of how to develop.
Header Image: Today’s picture is of the Blackthorn blossom which is currently brightening up my morning walk in the fields near to my house.
In summary: IT leaders want to be regarded as real business leaders, to be invited to the top table, and they are told that they should act in a particular way to get that seat at the table. Mark Schwartz argues that that the traditional approach is completely the wrong way of going about it in a world that is changing rapidly.
I’ve read a number of book on the changing landscape of business and, in particular, the radically changing role of technology within businesses. You may call this change Digital Transformation (personally I think that we’ve passed the point of meaningless for that particular term). This is a book for the people who are being expected to lead through that change:
“I’ve read a number of books on IT leadership and how to be a good CIO. None of them mention the major change of the last two decades: the rise of Agile and Lean practices for IT delivery. I’ve read plenty of books on Agile and Lean practices for IT delivery. None of them explain the role of IT leadership in an Agile world. The two domains are evolving separately: the field of IT leadership continues to frame its problems in its same old ways, oblivious to the deep changes brought on by the Agile revolution, while the Agile world, ever suspicious of management, proceeds as if it can manage without the involvement of IT leaders.”
The most common thought I had while reading this book was: “Yes, that’s it! I’ve seen that.” This was particularly true throughout chapter 2 where Mark outlines the history that has resulted in the situation that many organisations find themselves in and the behaviours that continue to reinforce this situation. This is a situation in which IT is regarded as separate from the business and is handled by contractor-control methods that spawned the whole outsourcing market in which I have worked for many years:
Thus, a distinctive way of thinking about IT was born, and has determined the course of IT since. First of all, we came to speak about “IT and the business” as two separate things, as if IT were an outside contractor. It had to be so: the business was us and IT was them. The armslength contracting paradigm was amplified, in some companies, by the use of a chargeback model under which IT “charged” business units based on their consumption of IT services. Since it was essentially managing a contractor relationship, the business needed to specify its requirements perfectly and in detail so that it could hold IT to delivering on them, on schedule, completely, with high quality, and within budget. The contractor-control model led, inevitably, to the idea that IT should be delivering “customer service” to the enterprise—you’d certainly expect service with a smile if you were paying so much money to your contractors.
There are many challenges with this approach, not least the challenge that a contractor-control relationship requires a level of stability and certainty that IT is not and should not be in a position to predict. Don’t get me wrong here, there are facets of IT provision that should be contracted, that’s what the who cloud change has been about, but that’s not where the business value is and that’s where the IT leaders should be focusing. Rather than subscribing to the “IT and the business” contractor-control model, Mark Schwartz sets out a different approach based on Lean and Agile thinking. I’d be reproducing the book if I tried to summarise all of the different ways in which Mark sees this playing out and that’s not the point of a quick review.
Some key stand-out thoughts for me though:
Planned Approaches v Agile Approaches
Planned approaches may have given us a perception of control, but that control was just an illusion. There were always too many unknown factors to really have control. Using Agile approaches allows us to continuously correct the course as we discover things helping us to navigate the unknown.
Enterprise Architecture in an Agile World
There are many fascinating insights into the role of Enterprise Architecture in a world where Agile is the way to deliver.
I have said that we need to stop looking at IT delivery in terms of projects and products. With what, then, shall we replace them? I’d like to suggest that the enterprise architects have had it right all along. We manage an enterprise-wide asset with an “as-is” state and a “to-be” state. We groom this asset in perpetuity—as the company changes and develops—by adding, removing, and improving its capabilities. We try to build into it agility and options, risk mitigations, and usability. The totality of our IT capabilities is an economic asset that will be used to derive profits or accomplish mission, and we might as well just call this the Enterprise Architecture.
As architects we need to move quickly away from our roles as the occupiers of the “land of the template zombies” and step into our new role as members of the business community who manage the IT economic asset. I wonder whether the term “Enterprise Architecture” is already too closely aligned to the “template zombies” to be redeemed, but that’s just the title and it was never really about the title.
We need to think very differently about risk, risk logs have never worked. Our plans require us to accurately predict the future, and we’ve never managed to that either. The way that we control risk is to make changes as circumstances develop. Creating experiments to help us understand how to navigate the risks is going to be the new skill that we all need.
Build v Buy
Mark makes an argument that the cost of building used to be so high that at always made sense to buy. The problem with buying was that you never quite got what you needed; you either got more than you needed or you got something that was only an 80% fit for what you need. This has all changed as the cost of building has reduced because of capabilities like micro-services which allow us to build something that is a 100% fit for what we need by plugging together a number of preexisting elements from cloud capabilities.
My personal perception is that this change is already taking hold – I’m seeing a lot more building going on.
The Role of the Senior Leader
Within this framework of change Mark outlines a new role for the IT leader, a role that has changed from be an enforcer of the contractor-control model to one whose role is to create an environment where self-managing teams can thrive. Mark summarises this change in a number of new roles:
Driver of Outcomes – taking responsibility for business outcomes.
Manager of Uncertainty – dealing with uncertainty has always been a part of IT leadership.
Steward of Assets – three critical ones the Enterprise Architecture asset, the IT people asset and the data asset.
Contributor – by being technical.
Influencer and Salesperson – stepping up to the “Chief” role.
Orchestrator of Chaos – businesses are complex systems that require a level of orchestration to truly sing.
Enabler – enabling activities rather than controlling them.
Independent Remover – “The best thing that a manager can do is to help the team do what it knows how to do by removing impediments.”
Manager of Managers – helping to manage other managers into an Agile mindset.
There’s a lot of focus on IT teams becoming Agile, but that’s only going to make a small change in most business. The real challenge is how a business becomes Agile, and that’s going to require a different kind of IT leadership.
This is a book I’m going to be coming back to.
Header Image: This is Lindisfarne Castle from Lindisfarne Harbour which is looking great after a number of years being surrounded in scaffolding for a renovation.
We have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) skills problem in the UK. Estimates vary on the impact, but it’s significant:
UK STEM businesses have warned of a growing skills shortage as they struggle to recruit qualified workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields. According to new findings from STEM Learning, the largest provider of STEM education and careers support in the UK, the shortage is costing businesses £1.5 billion a year in recruitment, temporary staffing, inflated salaries and additional training costs. The STEM Skills Indicator1 reveals that nine in 10 (89%) STEM businesses have found it difficult to hire staff with the required skills in the last 12 months, leading to a current shortfall of over 173,000 workers – an average of 10 unfilled roles per business.
The number of graduates is a result of many years of education and the earlier that we can get young people interested in STEM the better that the results will be. We can’t expect schools to be the sole instigators of that change either, as an industry we need to step up and help to provide life change STEM opportunities to children and young people. That’s one of the reasons why I was delighted to be a mentor as #ChorleyHack which was organised by the town council in the area where my office is.
What a fabulous day with 25 teams of four children from 14 local schools coming together in the local town hall to spend a day coding together. The task was “create a game or animation that educates other young people about cyber bullying, online safety and social media safety.”
The levels of preparation and enthusiasm were an inspiration, the room was buzzing. The children and young people were so focused on the task that many of them returned early from their lunch to get their code as far along as possible, even though the task was not to get their code finished. The sophistication of their work was amazing with a significant depth of understanding of the challenge subject area. As mentors the conversations where inspiring, I particularly enjoyed an extended chat with one of the children who was very excited to explain to me how Scratch worked and about another project he was writing in Python.
Observe anything about the make up of the winning teams from the tweets below:
That’s right, a significant proportion of girls, something that was evident across the day, no 20% here. #ChorleyHack was a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that girls can indeed code and another nail in the coffin of the lie that IT is just for boys.
Thanks go to each of the teams leaders, mostly teachers, who had clearly invested a huge amount of time in getting the children and young people prepared for the event.
A particular thanks goes to Simon Charnock, Digital Transformation Officer, Chorley Council who did a fabulous job of facilitating the whole event.
If we can see this level of enthusiasm and passion continuing through the education system then we should be looking forward to a very bright future.
I’m currently sat in one of those cafes that are now ubiquitous across the UK – the burgundy one, not the green one.
Next to me the conversation is of exam results and their meaning.
In England we have had a transition, in recent years, from a system in which the classification was given in letters to one that is given in numbers.
The letter system went from A* to G with A* being the best and F the poorest, a C and above being regarded as a pass.
The new numbers system goes from 9 to 1 with 1 being a low score and 9 being the best score. A 4 is now a Standard Pass and 5 is a Strong Pass.
This is where the conversation comes in, because the teenager on the table says: “Well I don’t need to worry about passing because I already have a 4 even before I’ve sat my exams.”
The adults accompanying him both look at each other puzzled: “What’s a 4?”
I’m pretty sure that one of these adults is the teenagers parent, and yet they are still confused by a system that has been being rolled out for a couple of years.
And so commenced the transpose from one system to another.
“So is a 4 like a C?”
“Sort of, it’s a pass.”
“What grade are you aiming for?”
“I’m hoping for an 8 or 9?”
“But you’ve already got a 4?”
“An 8 is better than a 4”
“So is an 8 like an A and a 9 like an A*”
This is the point at which the teenager gives in and chooses to keep it simple for the parent, who’s clearly still confused. The reality is that there is no direct correlation – see the chart in this link for more information.
The adults’ frame of reference is one scale, the teenager’s is a different scale. The only way the adults can understand is by transposing, the teenager can’t transpose because they only know the new system.
We do all sorts of transposing in life, to get from one frame of reference to another. Somewhere along the line we sometime switch from one to another and sometimes we don’t. And so I wonder, how long does it take for us to switch? What are the reasons for us sticking with an old, out of date frame of reference? What are the things that help us switch to a new one?
Why do you do what you do, when you do it? That is the fundamental question threaded throughout this book. The reality is, for many of us, we have unconsciously walked into a When of life that has little to do with productivity, performance or even well-being.
We have a tendency to treat all of our awake time as equal, we schedule our days around the priority of an activity and little else. We sit in afternoon meetings conscious of things going a bit slow, but choose to power through. We visit our doctor and expect the best performance from them whenever we go. We remember sitting in afternoon exams wondering why it was so hard. Yet, we all know instinctively that we have certain times of the day where different things are more enjoyable, and times when we are better at doing certain things.
In When, Daniel H. Pink, gives a framework for understanding ourselves, and those around us. As with many human conditions we all sit somewhere on a spectrum and not rigidly into any neatly defined box, but having the boxes helps us to understand ourselves and others. In When the boxes are:
Early to mid-morning
Late afternoon and evening
Late afternoon/early evening
Late afternoon/early evening
Making an Impression
Morning (sorry owls)
Making an Decision
Early to mid-morning
Late afternoon and evening)
Most of us are third-birds – we’re neither extremely larkish or blatantly owly.
If you look through this table you may notice that the mid-afternoon isn’t a great time for anyone or anything and that’s because it isn’t. That post-lunch slump affects most of us and isn’t a great time to progress anything, which is why it’s the ideal time to take a break. Some cultures have breaks built-in with extended lunches and early afternoon naps. This was perhaps the case in the UK some years ago, but it’s certainly isn’t now. Most people have their lunch at their desk while covering their keyboard with crumbs. That, it turns out, is a massive mistake, we would be far more productive if we took a proper break and had a nap.
When is full of advice on how to take good breaks: micro-breaks, moving-breaks, nature breaks, social breaks, even mental gear-shift breaks. Pink’s exhortation is for us to get serious about breaks, to schedule them in and to stick to the schedule.
The mid-point slump, doesn’t just apply to our daily routines though, the same pattern applies to most things – we start and finish with enthusiasm, but struggle in the middle. Pink devotes a number of sections to this phenomenon and in his usual style mixes scientific research with concise practical advice for handling these situations whether that’s a mid-point in a career, in a project or even in a relationship.
I’m not going to cover all of the sections in When here, because there is a lot that I liked about this book and much to apply and the post would be too long if I did. The one remaining section I will touch on though, is the one on synchronising. Getting together with others and performing a task has a powerful impact on our mental and emotional well-being. Having sung in groups most of my life I recognise the power of it in that situation, but I’m predominantly an introvert and wouldn’t go out of my way to join synchronisation opportunities, that’s a challenge. I think that my first step on that one is to join a yoga class, I currently use an app on my iPhone to do my practice, but I recognise that this is robbing me of the synchronisation high that comes from being in a group.
There are certain books that you read and wish that you had read them earlier, this is one of those books. Although, as I reflect upon it, as someone who in many ways is in the middle of things, perhaps it’s best that I read it now, when I need it.